K-20: The Fiend with Twenty faces AKA K-20: Legend of the Mask (Shimako Sato, 2008)

As something of an evil genius I generally find myself relating to those ambitious, audacious go-getters that tear up the screen with their  spectacular schemes, volcano bases and doomsday devices.  This accounts for my interest in movies that feature supervillains in lead roles (as documented here) and it is therefore not too surprising that I am fond of K-20:  The Fiend with Twenty Faces despite it actually being not all that easy to get though.

Set in an alternate universe, where atomic bombs have not being dropped during World War 2, we find Japan a prosperous city of innovation on the eve of a Tesla style electrical device that could power the world being revealed and where gyrocopters and zeppelins fly over a techno-industrial cityscape.  It’s a kind of steam-punk affair, but with steam replaced by propellers and electricity.  ‘Leccypunk’, if you will.  I know I will.  Just watch me.

This is what Leccypunk looks like.

Alas, innovation has not lead to Utopia, as a stringent class system has developed where the rich live in luxury while the poor struggle for scraps.  Enter K-20, a be-cloaked super thief stealing items of status from the rich.  This is not to give to the poor mind you, rather to fund his theft of the energy device that will level the playing field for all.  In order to evade capture, K-20 frames a young destitute circus acrobat who eventually teams up with his well-to-do arresting office to get to the device before K-20 by pretending to be K-20 and…  well all gets a little complicated at this point so I’ll stop.

K-20 himself is a fantastic looking creation.  A grimacing ivory face under a leather mask and floppy hat, K-20 also happens to be a master of disguise (well, twenty disguises).  He appears from nowhere, all swooshey cape and cackles, and the film instantly becomes a leccypunk Phantom of the Opera.  When he is introduced in the films opening scene he does little except wave his cape and laugh maniacally, yet manages to make you feel like you’re watching bond ski off a mountain. 

But rather than have the narrative follow K-20 Diabolik style the film instead spends its time with the circus acrobat, his larger surrogate family of paupers and circus performers, his reluctant working relationship with the police officer and his attempts to ready himself to go up against K-20.  Despite a fun training montage and a couple of nice action sequences the middle gets a little slow, muddled, melodramatic and dull.

But boy does it make up for it with the ending.  As the energy device appears from the roof of a massive art-deco tower the acrobat battles with K-20 in a joyously realised finale containing some excellent action choreography, superb visual effects and massively exciting orchestral score. 
With the fun opening and the barnstorming ending there is enough here to satisfy those of your with similar tastes to me.  If only there had been a little more ruthlessness in the editing the film would have danced to it’s thrilling climax rather than hobbled.



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